Linux for Die-hard Mac Users - Linux versus MacOS X Server

Since MacOS X server is actually BSD UNIX with Mach kernel plus Apple MacOS GUI plus some Apple proprietary technologies, MacOS X shares many components with other UNIX systems like Linux and free BSD: Apache WEB server; MySQL and PostgreSQL database servers; PERL, PHP and Python scripting languages; gcc compiler and GNU C/C++ libraries.

So its better to outline differences between Linux and MacOS X server, as well as advantages and drawbacks of each. Thus, only non-matching server-related features will be mentioned below.

Please note that both operating systems evolve very quickly, so this comparison (last updated in October 2001) may no longer be valid or accurate.


  Linux MacOS X Server v10.1
Supported CPUs ARM, DEC/Compaq ALPHA, IBM RS, Intel x86 and compatible, Intel IA64, Mac PowerPC, Mac 68k, SGI MIPS, SUN SPARC PowerPC G3/G4 (runs on genuine Apple hardware only)
Max # of clients Limited by hardware Limited by hardware or license
Price May be downloaded for free; retail boxes cost $29-$69, including 30-90 days of installation support, for unlimited # of users and server installations $499 10-user version, $999 unlimited users (price valid for 1 server installation)
SMP Support Up to 16 CPUs with 2.4.x kernel Limited by available Apple hardware, only 2 CPUs SMP supported at this time
Runs on Embedded Systems Yes No
Availability of True Server Hardware (with ECC RAM Support, built-in hardware RAID Level 5, etc.) Yes, from large # of vendors Not available from Apple at this moment
Crash-proof Journaling File System Support ReiserFS, SGI XFS, IBM JFS No
Windows SMB Networking Support Samba Samba
Novell Netware Emulation MARS_NWE No, but probably it is possible to recompile MARS_NWE under MacOS X
Appletalk/AppleShare IP Support Netatalk Built-in
Logical Volume Manager (LVM) Support Yes No
Software RAID Level 0, 1, 5 Support Yes Level 0, 1 and 5
Quota Support Yes ???
Genuine PostScript Printer Driver Clone only called GhostScript (PostScript Level 2 emulation with some Level 3 features) Yes, level 2 and 3
Built-in Network-able PostScript RIP (Raster Image Processor) Yes, GhostScript (PS L2), supports many ink-jet and laser printers; third party RIPs also available Third party only
Ability to Update/Delete/Replace System Components without Server Shutdown and/or Restart Yes (except base system: kernel, GLIBC, few extra items) Yes, except base system
Classic MacOS Emulation Yes (on PPC only), works with few limitations and artifacts Yes (native speed emulation), with few limitations
MS Windows Emulation Yes, under x86, close to native speed; and under PPC with 10% of native CPU speed Requires VirtualPC (at extra cost), runs at 10% of native CPU speed
ICC Profile Support Limited Yes
ColorSync Color Management Support No Yes
QuickTime Streaming Server Support Yes (Apple Open Source) Yes (Apple Open Source)
FileMaker Server Support Yes, on x86 only Yes
WebObjects No Yes
Remote Control/Administration for MacOS Client Yes, with screen sharing VNC software Yes, with Macintosh Manager and screen sharing VNC software
Availability of Third Party OPI Server Software No (???) Yes
Availability of Third Party Digital Asset Management Server Software No (???) Limited, but ports from Windows NT and commercial UNIX systems are expected

So, does Linux really represents dangerous threat for MacOS X Server? I believe no. Mac always have been specialized platform optimized for certain needs. MacOS X Server is pretty cheap (compared to Windows NT, Novell and commercial versions of UNIX); does not require purchasing per-client license; provides many (but unfortunately far from all) features available on Linux; is easy to install and configure; and additionally; hosts very capable RAD (Rapid Application Development) tools like Project Manager, Web Objects and Cocoa.

At this time in most cases for mixed Mac/PC networks Linux is preferable for both Internet and workgroup deployment because of availability of specialized software, greater hardware compatibility, better support for different network protocols and non-PostScript printers. On the other side, Web Objects, FileMaker Server, high-quality PostScript drivers, built-in color matching system and easy to use installation and administration are very strong point of MacOS X Server.

PS. If you still have old AppleShare IP server package which you have used to use, MacOS X Server is probably the most easiest upgrade path. Linux administration is quite difficult for people with pure Mac mentality and no UNIX or programming background.

Related article - Linux Industry Know-how and FAQ

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